IT Band Strain – What It Is and How to Treat It
The iliotibial (IT) band represents a series of fibres which are grouped together to form a thick tendon. They begin at your hip (the most prominent bone of your pelvis) and run along the outer lateral side of your leg, down the thigh and knee, and finally attach themselves to the tibia (the shin bone). This band is permanently moving as you walk and run and, in time, the friction against the lower end of the femur and the knee cap leads to its inflammation. This inflammation is the IT band strain.
What Are the Symptoms of IT Band Strain?
Most patients do not pay close attention to the first signs of IT band strain. It begins with the sensation of pins and needles in the outer side of the knee. It is a mildly annoying symptom and it does not impede running or walking, so most professional and amateur athletes tend to apply a little cooling cream on the knee and continue with their usual training and other physical activities.
If this initial warning sign is ignored, the IT band inflammation will aggravate and additional scarring will also occur. In time, pain in the knee will be more and more debilitating, at first while running when the heel hits the ground. However, during the more advanced stages, the pain becomes present even during regular walking and climbing stairs, to the point when it becomes debilitating, impeding all physical activities.
Usually, the diagnosis of IT band strain is very easy, even in the incipient phase. This is why it is important not to ignore the first symptoms, because the sooner you know what causes your knee pain, the simpler the treatment. Usually, a simple description of the symptoms experienced by the patient is sufficient to pinpoint the issue. In other situations, there is physical evidence showing that you suffer from IT band strain: the outer side of the knee is swollen and tender to the touch.
Your doctor may also assess the symmetry of the length of your legs, because IT band strain may cause one of your legs to appear shorter than the other, due to the fact that flexibility in the knee is lost and the leg does not stretch to its full length. If the strain is in its advanced stage, the doctor may also order a MRI in order to observe the exact extent of the damage done to the IT band.
1. Initial Phase of IT Band Strain
If you were cautious enough to go to the doctor after experiencing the first symptoms of IT band strain, the treatment is quite simple. You will be recommended to apply the RICE method for a few days. After you finished the first phase of treatment, you can benefit from topical massage and stretching exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the knee.
You can also use foam rollers at home. If the pain is above your tolerance level, you can also take over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or naproxen).
- Medium to Advanced Stage
This does not only mean that you have ignored your symptoms, but also the failure of the above home treatment options do not improve your conditions. In this case, the doctor will recommend a series of treatments which usually include phonophoresis (using ultrasounds to deliver medicines to the injured IT band), iontophoresis (when electricity is used instead of ultrasounds to deliver the treatment) or injections with corticosteroids.
- Severe Stage
The reason why you really should not ignore IT band strain is that at the final stage of this injury, the only treatment option is surgery. This will keep you away from the running track for a long time and you will have to work extremely hard to regain your previous performance level.
After your IT band has returned to its healthy condition, it is very important to identify what caused the strain and to prevent further occurrence. In many cases, the underlying cause is an incorrect running gait, which is corrected by changing the model of running shoes you are using or wearing orthotic inserts in your shoes. Your doctor and physical therapist will determine the best corrective measures which will help you avoid another IT band strain.